Vaccine logistics: the tough part is just beginning

Member countries will have to make individual agreements with pharma companies regarding the transport of vaccines and will also be responsible for their quite demanding storage requirements. [Shutterstock/MBLifestyle]

The European Medicine’s Agency is expected to approve Pfizer’s vaccine at an extraordinary meeting on 21 December and then, within three days, the European Commission is set to give its final green light. As for the vaccination process, in practice, everything depends on the readiness of EU countries, especially when it comes to logistics.

“The EU executive has done its part to ensure all member states will have access to a vaccine. Now it’s the member states who have to do their homework,” an EU source told EURACTIV.

The executive has led the process so far with several deals with pharma giants to get Europe access to vaccines against COVID-19. Small member states particularly benefited from that, but the logistics part is now a national competence.

Member countries will have to make individual agreements with pharma companies regarding the transport of vaccines and will also be responsible for their quite demanding storage requirements.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday the bloc aims to start COVID-19 vaccinations on “the same day”, in a sign of unity, possibly a day or two before Christmas.

EURACTIV was informed that the start of vaccination will depend on the readiness level of EU countries as not all of them are yet on the same page – some have advanced when it comes to vaccination strategies and logistics while others are lagging behind.

“Starting simultaneously vaccinating before the end of 2020 could be a ‘symbolic gesture’, a ‘sign of hope’ and it’s unlikely that member states will manage to do so at the same time. First doses and vaccination are realistically expected in January,” the EU source added.

The EU wants to avoid competition among EU member states, which would damage the bloc’s credibility. “The UK’s fast approval has already created this global competition,” the source said.

In Germany, CSU regional group leader Alexander Dobrindt has called for a quick approval before Christmas, saying that if Germany is the manufacturer of at least part of the vaccine, “then one should also have the right to be among the first to use it.”

“If we want to maintain acceptance for the accompanying measures as well as the lockdown in the population, then the quick availability of vaccines must be guaranteed,” he said.

Berlin announced on Wednesday that it plans to start vaccinations on 27 December. Though nursing home residents were emphasised in the announcement, a finalised version of the preliminary recommendations indicating who will be vaccinated first was still missing, and more announcements are expected on Friday.

In Paris, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the first vaccinations could be carried out as early as the last week of December, before being ramped up in early January.

The so-called “priority groups” will get the jab in phase 1, which include professionals and elderly in institutions such as nursing homes. The prime minister also told lawmakers that “no vaccination will take place without informed consent.” “A medical consultation will be offered prior to the vaccination,” he said.

In Austria, the first 10,000 shots of the COVID-vaccine will be provided before the end of the year, said a leading civil servant in the health ministry. The general population – but for risk groups – will only have access to the vaccines during next year’s second quarter.

In Rome, the government and regions agreed on a vaccination plan, which is due to start in January and will have the first 1.8 million doses from Pfizer/BioNTech distributed to the regional administrations.

Under the government’s plan, the first people to receive the vaccine in January will be health sector workers and people in care homes.

During the second phase in spring, the elderly who are most vulnerable will get the vaccine. After that, it will be the turn of younger people in the armed forces and public service staff, such as those working schools or in public transport.

According to the Italian plan, there should be at least 1,500 distribution points during the peak vaccination phase, while a total of 20,000 doctors and nurses to be hired to strengthen the vaccine’s distribution, of which 16,000 should already be contracted by February.

The government also said it aims to develop a smartphone app to allow people to book vaccinations and monitor adverse reactions, although it did not provide more details.

(Alessandro Follis | EURACTIV.it, Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de, Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de, Louise Rozès Moscovenko | EURACTIV.fr, Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com )

[Edited by Georgi Gotev/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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